I was watching the late news and found out that I live in the zip code with the highest number of cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) in the country, and sadly 2 deaths. At the same time, the CDC announced that WNV cases across the country now number over 1,110 with 41 deaths reported in the U.S. and half of those deaths are in Texas. This is the greatest number of cases recorded at this time of year since they began keeping stats on WNV in 1999.
I have been receiving texts, emails and seeing many concerned parents and children with fears that they may get/have WNV. Several parents have called to ask if they need to get tested for WNV as they “feel tired, achy and just not right”.
West Nile Virus can be a serious and unfortunately sometimes a deadly infection. But the majority of people who do get WNV (80%) will never really “know” they were infected, while 20% of people with WNV will have a fever, headache, body aches, stomach aches, a rash and fatigue. But, as with many other viral illnesses, the symptoms will typically be treated with over the counter medication to control fever and body aches (acetaminophen or ibuprofen), fluids for hydration and lots of rest.
Acute WNV symptoms last for for 5-7 days. Many children with WNV never really look very sick (remember swine flu), and therefore there is no need or benefit in testing for WNV. By the time the test results are back the child will usually be long recovered and back to their normal activity.
With that being said, individuals (who are usually over 50 years of age) who become more symptomatic (about 1/150) may develop changes in sensorium, seizures, neurological and respiratory problems and will require hospitalization and often intensive care and in these cases it will be important to test for WNV. These patients are being tested to provide the best treatment for the illness as well as for following the epidemiology of the disease. Again, care is supportive as this is a virus, and antibiotics will not treat viral infections.
Many of my patients and their parents are “afraid” to go outside. One mother told me she was going to “leave the state”, but WNV has been reported in 47 states to date.
Another concerned mother said she heard WNV is contagious and refused to let her children go to a friend’s house because they were sick. WNV is not contagious and keep in mind more people die in car accidents each day than from WNV. .
Kids need to get fresh air, walk to school and get outdoors. But be smart and use bug spray, wear long sleeves/pants when possible, don’t wear brightly colored clothes or perfumes and avoid the worst time of day (dawn and dusk) for mosquito exposure. Drain any areas of standing water and encourage your neighbors to do the same. The season for WNV is long and it may be several more weeks before WNV season is over.
Remember, bug spray should not be re-applied every 1-2 hours like sunscreen, but may be used several times throughout the day. When used appropriately DEET containing insect repellents are safe in children and will help to prevent mosquito bites. Use higher concentrations of DEET as needed for longer exposures.
My advice? Be mosquito smart and informed, not alarmed.